Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Did Bush authorize secret takeovers of web sites?

Though independent bloggers are posing severe problems for the control freaks, that doesn't mean those with control-itis are napping. After all, they're control freaks. They can't nap, lest they lose control.

I have a theory. At Cheney's behest, Bush signed a secret national security order granting the FBI, Pentagon intelligence agency or CIA the right to take technical control of any web site deemed to be "terrorist-related."

A few lawmakers were given a vague idea about the program and are still staying quiet about it because the New York Times hasn't blown the whistle.

The server, such as Google, would get a secret order requiring the keys to the site be turned over to the feds, who would then be in control of the site in all its details. The servers would be forbidden to inform the site users of the federal takeover of controls.

The rationale would be that in the war on terror, sometimes terrorist messages must be blocked from going on the net. However, the actuality would be that sites disliked by feds would face all sorts of unwarranted disruptions (witness the FBI's routine misuse of national security letters in order to bypass judicial watchfulness over constitutional safeguards).

Recall the NSA warrantless interception of phone calls and email. What better way to intercept email than to require the server to turn over keys to the account? And while in control of the account, what might an invisible fed do? If feeling capricious, or wanting to "send a message," such a fed might easily play games with the account that go beyond interception of specific messages.

No? You may not recall that top officials of the Swiss financial data transmission organization lodged protests with the U.S. government over one spook's misuse of privileged information in the covert "terrorist surveillance program" by the CIA and Treasury Dept.

However, such secret technical controls don't easily translate into a stranglehold on free speech and political discourse. They can be used to disrupt some writers. But excessive use will flare up into a major issue.

That point is underscored by Attorney General Gonzales facing renewed congressional skepticism, this time about his claim that no documented civil liberties abuses had shown up as a result of Patriot Act "national security" activities, even though he had been sent an FBI report tabulating improper use of national security letters.

Coming soon: Breaking taboos about surveillance.


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